Exclusive - Wesley Lowery Extended Interview

November 16, 2016 - Wesley Lowery 11/16/2016 Views: 16,908

"They Can't Kill Us All" author Wesley Lowery talks about tracking police shootings on a national database and examines how accountability for law enforcement has changed. (6:38)

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Please welcome Wesley Lowery.

(cheering and applause)

-What's going on, buddy?-Good.

Welcome to the show.

Thanks for having me,I appreciate it.

First things first, uh,congratulations

on winning the Pulitzer Prize.

-Well, thank you.-That's a, that's an amazing

-Thank you a lot.-honor for you.

-I appreciate it.-(cheering and applause)

And, um, and deserved, as well.

You and your team put together

a really comprehensive databaseof police shootings.

What surprises me

is that one didn't existbefore that.

How is that possible?

It's remarkable, right?

When we started coveringthese stories,

I started covering themwith Ferguson, Missouri.

And you would havethe police unions,

the police, they would say,this never happens.

Most officers never firetheir guns, these are rare.

Everyone who gets killeddeserves it.

The civil rights activists,they would say,

No. Black men are gettinggunned down, executed every day.

And so, finally, we were like,wait a second.

-You know, there's a fact heresomewhere. -Yeah.

One of them is true,one is not.

How can we get at that?

At the time, there werea few citizen journalism outfits

that were trying to do this,but the federal government

doesn't keep this data.

And so we started piecingit together, day by day,

literally, via Google searches.

My colleagues, Julie Tateand Jennifer Jenkins,

kind of pieced this togetherto try to figure out

how many peoplewere getting killed,

and-and underwhat circumstances.

That's a, that's a-- it's aHerculean task to take on.

And, I mean, you were takingit on at a time

when, in America, you could feeltensions rising.

People saying overand over again,

and obviously, due to the riseof cell phone videos,

you know, people were like,can you not see

what is happening to us?

What's fascinating is that,I still get e-mails,

um, there'll be a shootingtomorrow, most likely.

You know, there are three,three people are shot and killed

by the police every single dayin the United States of America.

Right? Um, not a,not all of those go viral.

-Most of them don't.-Yeah.

But every time we havea new case that goes viral,

that everyone's talking about,a hashtag that trends,

I'll get new e-mailsand new calls.

Some of themfrom the same people

who have been e-mailing meand calling me every day,

and saying lots of nice--not nice things.

But they will... they'll callme, and sometimes they'll say,

"Wait, but all the other ones,those people deserved it.

"But this guy, this is crazy.Can you believe

-they-they shotand killed this person?" -Yeah.

The... We have this thing. Youknow, this has been happening

in black and brown communitiesfor the...

all of American history, right?

Black and brown familieshave always known, um,

that an interaction withthe police could go sideways.

But we, as a nation,essentially, have refused

to believe blackand brown people

when they tell us these things.

And so what cell phone camerashave done is,

in many ways, they have exposedour unwillingness

to believe black peoplewhen they say,

"Hey, sometimes the copsaren't so nice to us.

"Sometimes they kill us,and we...

and we shouldn't be killed."And we see video after video,

story after story, where...

You-you have oneswhere they're a gray area.

Should this person have beenshot? Should they have not?

Others where the guy's clearlygetting shot in the back, right?

And before cell phone cameravideos, no one believed

those things ever happened."Every dead black guy

must deserve it,"they would say.

What's interestingabout this book though is

you've takena slightly different approach

to strict journalism,

-Mm-hmm. -and that isyou have involved yourself,

which has really personalizedthe stories,

not just of the victimsbut of you being in this world.

Because when you went outto Ferguson,

I don't thinkeven you anticipated,

from what I read in the book,

how big this movementwould become.

-I mean, at one point,you were arrested -Yeah.

for just being in the wrongplace at the wrong time.

Of course.I was one of dozens of reporters

who at some pointgot arrested in Ferguson.

It was fascinating, 'causewhen I first went to Ferguson,

-I was a political reporter.-Yeah.

I covered Congress,and I thought

that I'd be dropping infor a day,

I'd write a cute little storyor something.

Maybe I'd write somethingfor the weekend.

-And I thought I'd be homeby that weekend... -Mm-hmm.

...drinking with my buddieswhere,

you know,where we always go out.

And instead, um, I landed,and I could immediately sense...

Like you could feel itin the air

that this is something bigger,that that is...

This anger has reallyboiled over in a way

that it had not previously.

And we watchas we go from city to city,

as new activists spring upwho get involved,

new shootings occur,and you just have this feeling,

um,throughout these last two years

that this is something bigger,uh, than just one story,

than just an isolated incident,than just...

than just the storyof Michael Brown

or Eric Garner or Sandra Bland.

That, rather,this is part of a...

of movementthat is caramelizing.

Something fascinatingthat you wrote here that I'm...

I connected with.Yeah, I'll read the passage.

You said, "There's no right wayto approach these interviews.

"In moment,you are literally walking up

"to a heartbroken human,

"someone struggling to avoidbecoming completely engulfed

"by a wave of painand confusion,

"and asking them to find words

"to expressthose feelings and thoughts.

"And the 24-hournews cycle doesn't help,

"because it so often promptsreporters to ask either clich├ęd,

"leading, sound-bite,bait or process questions

"to which the response

of the dead man or family'swoman adds little."

Which is a really strongindictment,

because what you're saying is,essentially,

because the cycle is basedon entertainment,

24-hours news needs somethingthat is catchy and grabby.

You can't ask a personhow they feel.

Of course. We-we are talkingabout the fundamental issue

at the basis of the foundationof this nation, right?

Race in America, race injustice.And we're walking up to you

after your son has just beenkilled, and we're saying,

"So, how do you feel?

So, do you thinkyou're gonna get justice?"

-Yeah. -Um,and then we're cutting you off

after 15 seconds to put youon the evening news, right?

Um, we're going to a protestwhere you've been marching

for five hours,you've been crying,

you've carried a sign,maybe you've flown into town,

um, to participate this...in this,

and we're giving you halfa sentence in the newspaper.

"So, why are youout here tonight?"

That's not a way to havea conversation about this,

to deal with the nuances,to deal with the complexities.

I think one of the thingsI tried to do in this book was

tell the storiesof the activists who I've met

-as I've gone city to city.-You did a great job of that.

'Cause I believe thatif you could understand

one of these activists--as a human,

not as a caricature,not as, oh, that crazy radical

from the TV that night, but asa three-dimensional human being,

their motivations, their fears,why they're in those streets--

if you could understand one of the people in the streets,

then perhaps you can understandthe thousand people

and the hundred thousand people

that make upthis type of movement.

And so that's kind of what Iseek to do, is how do we seize

the humanity of the peoplebehind these headlines.

Because whether you agree withthe protest movement or not,

these are real human beingsin the street in pain,

and if you can't empathizewith that,

there's no...there's nowhere in our conver...

nowherefor our conversation to go.

You've really captured it,and, uh,

one reason I would recommendeveryone should read this book

is because it'snot just statistics,

it's not just the information,but it's the connective tissue

that shows the human storybehind it. I really enjoyed it.

-Thank you so much for beingon the show. -Thanks, Trevor.

-I appreciate it.-Appreciate it. -(cheering)

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